A New Dawn did, in fact, give me the final push needed to start watching Rebels. Last night, I intended to watch the first episode, but that transformed into watching the first four. And I watched just about as many today, too. The show’s wonderful! The visuals, sound effects, music, dialogue–it all feels so perfectly Star Wars. The Ralph McQuarrie-inspired character, vehicle, and setting designs are just lovely. And the backgrounds look sort of painted in, like the lush matte paintings in films that I’ve always had a soft spot for.
The subject matter is just fascinating, too. We get to see the early days of the Rebellion against the Empire, before it was even an organized effort. And with the focus on original characters, instead of the mostly known properties of The Clone Wars, the stakes are higher and there is a greater sense of risk and mystery. Anything could happen (within the scope of a show that is, after all, aimed at kids or families).
I liked a lot about The Clone Wars, but it didn’t click for me as quickly or as strongly as Rebels already has. In many ways, the earlier show feels like Dave Filoni’s warm-up for this later attempt. I admit that I might just have more nostalgia rooted in the sights and sounds of the era of the original films, and in the setting and tone of many of the spin-off stories and books from the ’90s. But if that’s a factor, that’s okay–it’s certainly not the only element at work.
Anyway, this post is here in part for me to specifically point out just how much I love the family dynamic of the show. I know I’m not the first to comment on it–that theme is pretty explicit within the text itself, after all. And I won’t be the last. But I need it to be known that I think it’s great! Orphan Ezra finds a family in the crew of the Ghost–Hera and Kanan are mom and dad, Zeb is a grumpy older brother, Chopper’s the family pet (Filoni famously remarked, “If Artoo is the family dog, Chopper is the cat“), and Sabine is…maybe a sister, but maybe a childhood crush?
Whole episodes are about exploring this developing family identity. But my favorite to deal directly with the subject so far, even if in a secondary plot line, is “Rise of the Old Masters” (if you haven’t seen it, there will be some spoilers in the discussion to follow, although this show’s on Season Four now, so at this point maybe some early-series spoilers just have to be accepted). In it, we see that Kanan has finally begun to devote efforts to training Ezra in the ways of the Jedi, although since Kanan never completed his own training and Ezra has his own hiccups, the training is off to a rough start. When the Ghost crew learn that Jedi Master Luminara Unduli appears to have survived the Clone Wars only to have since been held in Imperial captivity, they launch a mission to rescue her. Kanan hopes that Luminara will be able to properly train Ezra, while Ezra worries that Kanan wants to pass him off to someone else just as soon as he has started to feel a connection to the crew.
By the episode’s end, Kanan recognizes that he alone can train Ezra. He also gains a better understanding of an old Jedi proverb, coming away with the determination and confidence to train Ezra properly. Ezra, meanwhile, confesses that he really does want to train under Kanan, even if the older man can’t be the best teacher that Ezra might need, and he is placated when Kanan reaffirms his commitment. The episode ends mirroring its beginning: Kanan has Ezra practice swatting away thrown objects with his lightsaber. While it was high-stakes and dramatic in the beginning, and Ezra failed, the scene now is low-key, simple, and relaxed, and Ezra successfully hits target after target.
But what’s wonderful about this final scene is that we are watching it from a wide view, at a distance; the characters stand among waves of grain, outside their ship, for all the world looking like a father tossing balls to his son to practice at bat. It might be Jedi training, but it’s also a familial game of catch.
What needed to be said between them was said, but even more powerful to the audience, I think, is that closing image, which communicates still more about the sort of relationship held between Kanan and Ezra.